Moonlight is a Distance
It's night again, and the headlights are more than moonbeams but less than what they should be.
They make him tired, like the drone of a fan in visual form, like a lullaby of a light show. It's the headache that comes and goes with the waning and waxing of that bright poetry in motion, the residual beating pain of a past that hides at the back of his head just like the ache itself. It makes him understand why you click your tongue against the roof of your mouth to speak the word, ache, at once nasal and sharp and somehow guttural all at the same time, a word that sounds the way it feels.
It spreads out behind his eyes, pouring into his sinuses, a pressure pulsing in tune to his heart. It flares up with every oncoming vehicle, the light cutting straight through his pupils to ricochet around the inside of his skull. It's a pain like white noise, a rhythm section, constant and droning and unlikely to stop before the end of the show.
He needs to pull over, he thinks, pull over and cross his arms on the steering wheel and press his face into the cloth of a shirt still damp from the river. It's a nice fantasy to contemplate, a moment's rest, so small and achievable.
But there are people looking for him. And he does not wish to be found.
He needs to make a border, and Mexico is too far away so he'll settle for Canada. It won't be easy, but it never is and the challenge keeps him occupied in between the headache waves, when he can think about it, when the pain abates enough to let him focus. It's just one more hurdle to overcome. He won't let himself contemplate what happens when he lands on the other side.
The local anesthetic he stole from the animal hospital is beginning to wear thin and for a moment the seeping hole low in his right torso begins to edge out his head for the greatest source of discomfort. He wouldn't let himself take the morphine; he had to drive. So he suffers the way he always does, in silence, and keeps his eyes fixed on the road, squinting frequently to block out the glare of traffic. It's a balancing act. When he feels like he's too tired, his eyes can't take anymore headlights, his side flares up. Then moments later the pain reverses its seething polarity and the fire near his ribs subsides to make way for the heavy hammering behind his eyes. He's being kept upright between two forces, squeezed in the middle and unable to fall. It's a poor substitute for alertness.
But just as his eyes must stay on the road and be punished by the stabbing beams of light, so too his mind cannot escape from the illumination before it. The truth is not difficult to hide from, but for the first time he has no other recourse. There is no overarching plan which requires his laser focus. There are no more missions. There is no Marie to offer him solace. There are no more wars to win.
There is nothing left.
He thinks that should probably hurt him more than it does. Despair is a reasonable response in the face of a crumbling existence. But he does not know what despair feels like. He has never felt its dark grey miasma seeping through his soul. Not even when he awoke on a fishing trawler without a vestige of a past. Not even when Marie was taken from him.
He knows why. It is because he has always been imbued with the natural predator of despair: purpose. The time when he would be given missions has since passed but he had plugged the gap with missions all his own, plans and backup plans and long term goals to quiet the insistent urge that wraps around his psyche. Recover his memories. Find Marie. Avenge Marie. Save Nicky. Destroy Blackbriar. Every move had a reason; every step brought him closer to completion. He has clung to that like a drowning man. Within the context of his objectives, everything makes sense and nothing is wasted.
Perhaps – he thinks to himself with a low, unfamiliar constriction building in his chest – if he has never known despair before then it is eager to introduce itself now, a hideous guest.
It is not a helpful emotion but the time when he had felt nothing but what was useful is long gone now. So many of the efficient parts of him have been destroyed by his memories… and by Marie. What's left is piecemeal, confused and unfinished. Within his battered and bleeding exterior he contains the shells of two men.
Who he was is no longer sustainable, and who he is was never complete. They are incompatible, David Webb and Jason Bourne. Both halves of a whole that no longer exists.
David is a stranger. Jason is a fiction.
In retrospect it is almost amusing how he could have ever thought that regaining his memories would free him. Destroying Treadstone and Blackbriar has freed him in other, different ways, but still far more than the distorted flashes of barely-lucid events that he chooses to call his past. Who's past, exactly, he is still not certain. But more and more he is coming to realize that there is no going back to what he used to be.
David Webb was destroyed in order to create Jason Bourne, who was in turn annihilated when something snapped inside him. What's left are the combined fragments of both men, slowly melding to become someone else entirely. He doesn't know if he really minds anymore. From the pieces he remembers, he is not sure that David was an admirable man. He knows that Jason was not.
He wonders what really killed Jason. He is the result of an experiment, forged under the influence of near-lethal levels of forced intensive training and mind-altering drug cocktails. Hirsch found ways to burn the black ops routines directly into the human brain like he was Pavlov reborn as a mental surgeon. They were seared into the deepest parts of his subject's consciousness, deep enough that they were longer conscious at all. They were impulses every bit as involuntary as breathing.
Sometimes he thinks that, in the end, maybe they are all that is really left of him. Maybe he is a man with no name, built from impulse and the dimly remembered emotions of a past life.
Marie would tell him to find a new self, but she's not here to help him anymore and surely if he was capable of that he'd have done it by now. He's always done everything he could to sustain himself. Survival is his creed, his deep seated mantra. But while the gun, the knife, the clenched fist are all familiar tools of defense the ability to protect himself from himself has always eluded him. Emotion is a foreign battlefield. He doesn't understand it. Perhaps, he reluctantly admits, he fears it.
Marie never did.
He swerves to avoid a slow driver in the left lane and punches forward through a gap in the line. The highway is not crowded this time of the night and there's no need for evasive driving, but his physical maneuvers match his mental ones – he careens away from the unintentional enormity of that last thought.
He's had this same thought before but this time it's different, immediate, and he doesn't know why. It's like a punch to the gut. He leans forward in his seat, breathing hard. Immediately his training asserts itself, calculating the possibilities, assuming loss of blood is responsible for his sudden dizziness, telling him to elevate his legs if possible. But for once the pain in his head and side are cumulatively dwarfed by the searing agony that engulfs what he can only indistinctly describe as his heart, an ethereal portion of his anatomy that twists and burns as the revelation pours through him like napalm.
He clenches his teeth. He tells himself it's just the gunshot, the headlights, the long night drive alone without Marie to tell these things to. His eyes burn, and it must be the headache. Because the alternative is too hard to consider. Because if it was all going to hit him, surely it would have done so by now.
Marie is dead. And he will never see her, never talk to her, never listen to her, never love her again. And he had loved her, in his own inelegant way.
He vomits violently into the passenger seat.
The heaving of his abdominal muscles sets fire to his wounded side and he groans, leaning heavily against the cool glass of the window and spitting onto the floor, not caring about the upholstery. The acid smell of bile and partially digested liquid (for he hasn't eaten much lately) fills the car and he painfully dry heaves. Shaking from head to toe he turns onto the first exit off the highway he reaches, drives aimlessly past gas stations, fast food restaurants and hotels until he finds himself parked in a gravel lot outside of a vast empty complex that he thinks is a concrete factory.
This isn't right. He needs to move, to keep moving until he can get away to another distant country where he can hide for awhile and recover his balance. Instead he finds himself shaking in the driver's seat of a stolen car while reality stabs at him with so many truths that surely at least some of them must be lies.
There is no truth in his life, he tells himself as the cold sweat beads across his forehead and melts into his eyebrows. His entire existence has been a lie. His short time with Marie was one moment of honesty, and look what had happened to it. She was the candle he had snuffed with his fingers. She left a callous, but no heat. She believed the lies were lacerations more ephemeral than deep.
Now he is nothing, and she is dead.
But at least, he thinks as he tugs at the door handle, she had a name.
The gravel is rough on his knees as he collapses onto it but he takes no notice. Across the street behind the chain link fence a motel is advertised by a buzzing fluorescent light that flickers and beckons to him. Sanctuary, if only for the night. He can't run any longer.
The clerk behind the front desk takes little notice of his customer's condition as he pays in cash, up front, and signs in with an alias he creates on the spot. His old Treadstone identities are no longer reliable; they've become known and therefore useless. With every step he seems to be littering pieces of his past, peeling off of him like old paint. The real question remains, he thinks as he staggers down the worn shag carpet to his room, as to what exactly is underneath.
The room is a box assembled from beige and off-white boundaries and littered with particle board furnishings covered by fake wood grain. It smells faintly of cigarettes and bleach. It could be a motel room on any highway in any state, a remnant of the 50's travel boom and a survivor of multiple recessions simply because there will always be people like himself who need a place to lie down and aren't particular about it.
When he falls onto the bed it is lumpy and stiff and the sheets scratch at his hands, but he is past caring. Pausing only to kick off his shoes, he slides underneath the rough bedding fully clothed and shivers as his mind begs sleep to take him.
The ceiling is uninteresting, which is unfortunate because a full two hours later he is still staring at it. Sleep eludes him like the answers that rattle in the corners of his mind, noisy ghosts. What he wants now is simply to forget.
But if he must remember…
He reaches into his pocket and retrieves one of the few possessions that he's ever really considered his own. It is a picture of him and Marie. She is smiling. She was always good at that.
He thinks of all the things she taught him, so much more important than anything Treadstone had imparted, and how little of what she had to show he truly understood. But he is trying to understand, now more than ever. She is never far from his thoughts. Now in the moonlight streaming through the window, she seems close.
She can't leave him if he won't forget her the way he forgot himself.
So he can close his eyes and…